I don’t remember how I first head of the young Irish poet Sinéad Morrissey, but I’m grateful to Serendipity for sending her work my way. Her first two collections, There Was a Fire in Vancouver and Between Here and There are lively and adventurous, but her third, The State of the Prisons, places her among the half-dozen finest poets of her generation. That book’s eponymous poem, subtitled “A History of John Howard, Prison Reformer, 1726-1790,” is a masterpiece, but it’s too long to quote here. So let me quote a shorter, lighter poem that nevertheless illustrates her skill with the line, the phrase, the sentence, the stanza—and gives some sense of her complex voice:
Reading the Greats
Is it for their failures that I love them?
Ignoring the regulation of Selected Poems,
with everything in that should be in—
all belted & buttoned & shining—
I opt instead for omnivorous Completes.
For their froth. Their spite. For avoidable mistakes:
Larkin on Empire, say, or Plath on Aunts.
The thrill of when they dip, trip up, run out
of things to write about before they start,
is the consolation of watching
a seascape suddenly drained and stinking
of flies & fishheads & bladderwrack.
And the tide impossibly distant. And no way back.
Yes, I love them for that.
This seems to me an excellent riposte to a long-ago post (!) on Bill Knott’s blog, in which Knott cited Charles Simic as saying that even the best poets’ work gets distilled down to 80 pages (Knott had earlier given a slightly higher figure of 90 pages). Let’s hear a cheer of support for the Completes!